You know how sometimes blog posts have those very ambitious titles "THE SECRET TO GODLINESS" or "HOW TO BE A GOOD PARENT" or "YOU CAN BE SINGLE AND CONTENT"? Yeah. I decided to do it the other way round for this one, and tell you about something I am actually good at.

I am very good at not being disciplined. I'm really rubbish at it. If you think you’re rubbish too, I am probably rubbish-er. Some days I’m better at it than others (that is, a bit less rubbish than usual) but most days I find it extremely painful to sit and write down to-do’s lists, let alone follow them. I’d rather eat a lemon.

Is that so bad? Isn’t it “just the way I am”? Well, maybe it is the way I am. But sometimes, the way you are is bad and it needs to change. Harsh. Yes. If you bear with me, it will all make sense in a couple of minutes. (Well, that is my hope anyway)

Picture the healthiest and fittest jogger you know. They usually happen to live next door to you and once in a while you bump into them on the way back from their morning run. They’re always wearing blue shorts, they’re sweaty and smiley. You feel pretty good cos you’re sweaty too (from walking to and back from the post office). They tell you all about the benefits of running and how you should join them one day, and you say “Oh yeah, that’d be grand!” which is code for “Over my dead body” – the latter most likely to happen in any case.

In my world those people fall under the "champion" category. They're brilliant at what they do. Now champions are nice, but I struggle to identify with them or be inspired by their achievements because they seem so “up there” and I am so “down here”. So true, isn’t it? In fact, no, it is so very wrong to think like that.

Huh?

I’m a Christian and I like to say I read the bible. As a matter of fact, most days (the less rubbish days) I happen to do it! I was reminded of a shocking truth by God this morning. 

My bible reading this morning started with: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  That’s good, isn’t it? I get the metaphor, Apostle Paul, and I agree. I ought to fix my eyes on loving and serving God faithfully, store up for myself rewards in heaven, look to what lies ahead, etc.

Then Paul had to ruin it. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” 

Doesn't Paul sound a bit like a bootcamp leader in that one? You know, a camp where everyone would have to wear blue shorts and chant that verse while doing our morning push-ups? This is the kind of verse that makes me want to cry. (And in fact I did cry). 

See, I don’t do strict and I’m rubbish at training, so I prayed: “Lord, I’m rubbish. Please, help me. Amen.” I’d lie if I said I haven’t prayed this prayer a lot lately. A couple of months ago I left my job, a country and city I love, a wonderful team of colleagues and church family, some of my best friends, nice coffee shops, human-friendly temperatures, and after many long years I find myself back in my passport country where I no longer fit in and where everything seems strange and “not done properly” (like tea or queuing for example). Some people might think I’m a champion at cultural adjustment considering I’ve lived in lots of places, but reverse-cultural adjustment is the hardest thing I’ve had to endure so far. It was a hard decision to make and it required sacrifices, call them big or small, and it still does. Am I willing to go all the way? Am I willing to take the opportunity I asked for but not the little adjustments that come with it? Last week I felt very annoyed by everything here and thought France, French people, French Christians and even French bread were RUBBISH (I know!). I guess all that is part of my life training and later I'll be able to look back and say, "I learnt something through that."

But...

As tough as the idea of strict training may often sound or turn out to be, the part that annoyed me most in that bible verse weren’t the words “strict” or “training”. It says “Everyone” has to get into training. Ugh. Usually everyone means, well, every-person so I guess that includes me…

The reason someone becomes a champion at something is because they get involved in the training. They seriously do. They are – wait for it – disciplined.  It is wrong for me to think that champions and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum, because this kind of perspective suggests that they have it easy. Everything may seem easy for them from my perspective, but the shocking truth is that their days are filled with lots of difficult decisions to make too. They just choose to make the right ones. If I’m honest, I make a lot of bad choices. Last night for example I went for seconds when I already felt full, then I checked my emails “just one more time” past my 10pm bedtime curfew. Then I woke up this morning complaining that I didn’t sleep well (maybe if I’d eaten less and gone to bed earlier I wouldn’t feel so crap). Little choices, you see. 

So if that’s true for sports or art or whatever, it has to be true with spiritual discipline. Or should I say “spiritual self-discipline”. Notice the word “self” in there. Probably means I, me, have to get involved at some point.

So what am I going to do? Because I need to change and I am unwilling/lazy/not bothered. I like my comfort, someone to tell me what to do with my day, a monthly pay-check, a nice (normal) cup of tea, a trustworthy circle of friends to support me, walking around town without risking death-by-sunstroke, and people not cutting in the queue at the post office. All these things are gone – for now anyway – so what am I going to do in the meantime? Am I going to stare blankly through the window waiting to turn into an organisational wizard and for friends to magically land on my balcony? Or am I going to take things one at a time and deal with them?

Thing is, if you’re like me and you are rubbish at self-discipline, you need to take it easy on yourself. I mean that. Don’t expect to change overnight but rather aim at making one or two sensible, perhaps slightly uncomfortable, decisions every day that will get you a couple of steps further:

Hate paperwork? Start by taking a trip to the local stationary shop or post office and buy some envelopes of various sizes, stamps and a new ink cartridge. Stop and smell a flower on the way home. Once home, give yourself a little high-five or do a little dance. You may be all sweaty now but you’ll be better equipped tomorrow when you need to focus on those annoying forms to fill out because the technical stuff will be taken care of. (Note within the post: for those of you who think there is nothing very spiritual about sorting out paperwork or buying stamps, you are wrong, for some people leaving the house and facing the outside world requires an awful lot of courage!). If you’re not into sports but would like to get fit, before signing up for Rio 2016 I’d suggest to start with a 10min stretching exercises session every morning (or a couple more trips to the post office) then up it.

You get my point. You know yourself better than I do, so start somewhere and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by everything all at once. Whatever it is you are aiming to achieve, don’t aim too big all at once – dream big, but aim reasonable. Prepare yourself for that little battle. Every champion started off RUBBISH and had to get to B before getting to Z.

Speaking from experience, though, let me tell you it won’t work every day. Some days you’ll eat three portions of your mama’s lasagna, you’ll tear a ligament or have no money for stamps because you bought biscuits instead. That’s OK. Life is full of unexpected “stuff”. Just don’t try and make it happen every day! I never promised a self-help post with lots of easy answers. I’m still rubbish at a lot of things, but with God’s help, and a bit of willingness to jump from one alphabet letter to the next, I believe it’s all doable.

 
For Christians looking for something more spiritual on Change, I’d recommend this book which I read with a trusted friend last year. It’s by Tim Chester so you can’t go wrong, basically. 




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